[Co-Parenting Matters] Three Back-to-School Essentials for Stepmoms

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by Katie Parsons

There is a lot of information out there to help moms get ready for back-to-school. Pinterest alone is awash in ideas for school staging stations and DIY calendars to make the school year run smoothly for kids and parents. There isn’t much out there for stepmoms though—at least when it comes to advice on how to handle the inevitable meet-and-greet social situations that accompany the start of every school year.

This is the third year I have been “the third wheel” when it comes to my stepkids’ educations and I’ve learned a few tips for navigating the murky water of combined families. With the right attitude, you can play an active role in your stepkids’ learning and make a few friends in the process too.

Offer an explanation

I used to think that it would make people uncomfortable if I explained our shared-custody, combined-family situation but I’ve found that the opposite is actually true.

When parents are not sure of your relationship to the child that sits next to theirs, they feel more uncomfortable and are worried about saying the wrong thing. Now when I introduce myself, I say “I’m Katie, Ferris’ stepmom.” If I see a parent gazing at the mass of curls on my stepkids and silently wondering where my biological daughter got her stick-straight blonde hair, I speak up and explain that we are a combined family. It is a good ice breaker, for one thing, and puts other parents at ease if you are open and relaxed about your family circumstances.

Include yourself

When my stepson started pre-K, I did not attend the parent open house and left it up to my husband and his ex-wife to gather all the details instead. We had only been married a few months and I wasn’t sure if it was “my place” to be there.

However, I ended up being the parent who took him to preschool and picked him the most often though, so I was the one who really needed to know the school policies and what was planned for the year. About halfway through the year I wised up and asked the teacher to add me to her email updates and she was happy to oblige. Instead of getting information secondhand from my husband (that we all know can get lost in translation in busy family schedules), I was always in the know.

Now every fall I make sure my stepkids’ teachers have my contact information and know that they can reach out with any concerns or classroom needs. I also attend parent meetings and open houses because though I may not be biological, I am their parent too and so it is my place to understand what is going on in their school schedules.

Ditch the resentment

In my case, my stepkids are with us during the school week and gone on the weekends. By default that makes our house the “less fun” of the two. We have bedtime. We have wake up time. We have homework time. We ask a lot in the way of chores because without the help, we would not survive the school week without squalor. Our grocery bills are mind-blowing, even when I shop sales and use coupons.

Occasionally I feel a twinge of annoyance creep up on me. Why am I always the bad guy? Why don’t I get to let them sleep in and take them on fun weekend excursions (see grocery costs above)? Why does my husband regularly get a card from his ex-wife on Father’s Day reminding him that they are a great parenting pair and neglecting to mention the third, but vital, person on the child-rearing team?

It’s easy to feel underappreciated as a parent and I’d say it’s even easier as a stepparent. But take it from me – your energy is much better spent in a positive approach to your family arrangement. What you do for your stepkids matters, whether you have them weekdays or weekends or some other combination. Have faith that all your hard work will pay off and you will see it as your well-adjusted kids become adults.

Stepparents, what would you add?

Other parents, what can stepparents do to make themselves and their situations less intimidating?

Katie Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. Before that, she earned a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content creation company and hosts a community blog for moms. You can contact her by emailing her at katie@mumblingmommy.com.